Victory – Judge supports UMass panel on Palestinian human rights
“There simply cannot be a First Amendment exception when it comes to Palestine.”
(Boston, MA) May 2, 2019: A Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled in favor of allowing a panel discussion at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to go ahead earlier today. The May 4 panel discussion “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights” will be held as planned, despite the legal request for an injunction to halt the panel, premised on a false accusation of antisemitism against the panelists, event sponsors and attendees.
Jewish Voice for Peace member Attorney Rachel Weber explained that, “The judge ruled that to shut down this event would be to violate the First Amendment. But we also challenged the false premise that criticism of Israel is somehow inherently antisemitic. We have every right to criticize Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. As members of JVP, and as Jews, we stand in solidarity with the event and with the panelists.”
This lawsuit is part of a national trend attempting to silence the free speech rights of students and faculty who advocate for justice and human rights in Israel and Palestine. Responding to the attempt to shut down the May 4 event, UMass Amherst Professor of Philosophy Joseph Levine stated, “The attempt to tar everyone associated with the movement for Palestinian rights with the brush of antisemitism is part of a systematic campaign to build a wall of denial behind which Israel can continue to call on the US to aid and abet its brutal oppression of millions of Palestinians living under occupation and in exile.”
UMass student Anna Ben-Hur explained, “As a Jewish student member of Students for Justice in Palestine, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the claims that this event is antisemitic. The struggle for Palestinian and Jewish freedom is the same struggle – it’s a movement against white nationalism.”
Palestine Legal Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath added: “The court rightly recognized that UMass can’t censor Saturday’s event just because some people disagree with the message that Palestinians deserve freedom and equality. There simply cannot be a First Amendment exception when it comes to Palestine.”
Joining Jewish Voice for Peace Western MA in asking the court to reject the injunction were event panelists Linda Sarsour, Marc Lamont Hill, Roger Waters, Dave Zirin, moderator Vijay Prashad, event organizer Sut Jhally and the Media Education Foundation, and co-sponsor Students for Justice in Palestine at UMass-Amherst. The University of Massachusetts Amherst was represented separately and also opposed the lawsuit and request for injunction.
The panel discussion “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights” will address recent attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar and other progressives who have spoken out against Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian land. Admission is free to the event which will begin at 6:30PM on Saturday May 4 at the Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Free tickets will be available at the door the night of the event. For more information visit www.notbackingdownumass.org
Attorney Rachel Weber and JVP-Western Mass members Ethan Plofsky and Emily Eliot Miller are available to speak with the media
Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.